There are a lot of lists defining the best science fiction of all time. Top 100 this, Best of that. But I’ve yet to come across a list of Bottom 100, or Worst of. While certainly everyone’s Most Terrible SF list would be different, there would be crossover material. Having just finished Philip Francis Nowlan’s “Armageddon 2419 A.D.,” I can’t help but think it would occur more than a few times.
Caught in a coal mine collapse and kept in a state of suspension by the gases released, Rip van Winkle—I mean, Anthony Rogers—awakens to the year 2419 to discover that things are not what they once were. The US having fragmented due to poor leadership and lack of work ethic, Mongolia has risen to take its place as world super power. Emerging from the cave into the middle of a gang battle in Wyoming, Rogers is quickly picked up by an army enclave, and before long is asked to put to work his ingenuity with weapons and strategy to assist the guerrilla resistance effort. As the title subtly implies, war ensues.
But the novella can be expressed in different terms, as well: info dump, info dump, bit of action, expression of author’s political beliefs, explosion, info dump, expression of author’s political beliefs, bit of action, info dump, bit of action, info dump, bit of action, fizzled conclusion, end. Nowlan the opposite of a born writer, this concatenation of events is the gist of the three hours I spent listening to the recording of “Armageddon - 2419 A.D.” on Librivox.
I first learned about “Armageddon 2419 A.D.” from a blog post (that of course I can not find again) which declared the novella to be science fiction’s version of “The Eye of Argon”. For those unaware, Argon is oft cited as the worst specimen of fantasy ever created. (In today’s world of self-publishing, I’m sure there is much stiffer competition, however.) Such a citing is also, of course, to pique one’s interest.
Having now read “Armageddon 2419 A.D.,” I’m inclined to say the blogger was on to something. The ‘prose’ is not as shitty as “Eye of Argon” but certainly is far, far from anything resembling good; the author’s voice is in the reader’s face throughout (it stinks of right wing tuna); character, plot, and action are paper thin; and the actual story is told to the reader rather than shown—‘explained’ perhaps a better word than ‘told.’ One must really scrape the bottom of the barrel to find a compliment. “It’s short.” already taken, I’ll have to go with “At least Nowlan presented an empowered version of Mongolia. They are sorely due for better representation in science fiction.”
I hope the next line doesn’t come off insulting as it’s not intended to be, but, “Armageddon 2419 A.D.” is an incredibly male story. Preachy in its politics, patronizing of women, nearly completely lacking in character interaction, grand in its world dominance schemes, and endlessly creative in terms of new ways to shoot, kill, and otherwise blow stuff up, there is no doubt which sex wrote the story. There could have been a girl playing with Nowlan in the sandbox as he wrote the novella, but certainly he took no interest in what she had to say as he obliviously smashed his toy soldiers together—Bang! Smash! (“Hee hee!” he said after.)
In the end, “Armageddon 2419 A.D.” is a small load of poorly written sci-fi fluff. Like Bobby High School’s creative writing assignment (rushed and turned in late, at that), there’s little to comment on save “Look how far we’ve come in science fiction”(at least some writers, that is). Interestingly, the two writers who popped into mind reading the novella are Robert Heinlein, particularly for the military parallels (tech and politics) in Starship Troopers, and Cory Doctorow and his "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow/Now Is the Best Time of Your Life" for its naïve, toy soldier view of the world and generally unpolished presentation.